Sri Lanka navy and air force strike at Tiger rebels


Sri Lanka's navy battled a Tamil Tiger insurgent fleet early on Tuesday as troops killed 13 separatist fighters and air force planes bombed a rebel supply dump, the military said.

Just days after the Tigers sank a navy patrol boat with 10 crew still missing and feared dead, the navy said fast attack ships fought a fierce battle with a small fleet of rebel boats trying to slip past off the northeast coast.

"Naval attack craft on patrol off Pulomoddai sighted a cluster of terrorist boats hugging the coast at 1 am (local time), intercepting them in a seaborne fire attack," navy spokesman Commander D.K.P Dassanyake told Reuters.

The Tamil Tigers have for been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east for 25 years. The conflict turning increasingly vicious since the military began launching fresh offensives in January 2006.

The rebels use boats to land supplies of weapons and launch occasional suicide attacks against the navy, claiming the patrol boat sunk last week was destroyed by elite suicide Black Sea Tigers. The navy said it was sunk by a rebel sea mine.

While unseasonal rains and flooding have bogged down the ground war, weekend fighting saw 82 rebels killed for the loss of six government soldiers, the military said.

Dassanyake said one rebel boat had been disabled in the latest sea clash, although it was unclear if any crew were killed and how many boats were in the Tiger fleet.

The military said 13 rebels and one soldier had also been killed on Monday in the northern Vavuniya, Jaffna and Mannar districts, along a loose frontline separating rebel from government territory.

The air force said it bombed a Tiger storage base in Udayarkattukullam, also in the rebel-held north.

A spokesman for The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was not immediately available for comment on the latest clashes in a bloody civil war the military has vowed to end by December.

Both sides regularly inflate casualty numbers to maintain public support and demoralise opposition fighters, with more than 70,000 people killed since the 1983 start of the conflict. (Reuters)